- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

TOKYO Technical glitches and grass-roots resistance atypical of Japan accompanied the debut yesterday of the country's first national identification system, a registry designed to battle bureaucracy by centralizing personal data.
The system will assign an 11-digit identification number to each of Japan's 126 million citizens much like the U.S. Social Security number and gather basic information on each in a networked central database: name, address, sex and birth date.
Under the system, each local government will be responsible for entering the data, and each citizen will be issued a photo ID card.
The idea is to allow people to more easily process social benefits and get passports and other official documents, cutting down on red tape among municipal, prefectural and national governments.
Now, Japanese often have to pay numerous visits to various government offices to complete a single administrative procedure, such as registering a change of address.
Records are often filed on paper, and identification can require obtaining a slew of documents a process the new system attempts to streamline.
But the new system has stirred controversy since its inception. Opponents say it tramples individual privacy and could be used by the government to quell public dissent.
Even before the introduction yesterday, the ID system was undermined by five municipalities refusing to register their information and by Yokohama, a city of 3.4 million, saying it would register information only from those who consent.
The mayor of Kokubunji one of the municipalities opposing the system terminated his city's connection to the network at a morning news conference yesterday.
"It is regrettable that this has to be done, but the people have not been properly consulted about this system," Mayor Nobua Hoshino said.
About 70 people demonstrated against the system in front of Japan's Public Management Ministry in downtown Tokyo.
"Although we are not against the registry system in principle, we believe there are some privacy and security issues that still have not been dealt with," said spokesman Satoshi Arai of the national bar association, which has formally lodged its concerns with the government.
As the system got up and running, several municipalities including ones in Kyoto, the central region of Toyama Prefecture and Osaka also reported temporary computer glitches that prevented them from tapping into the national network, local officials said.
Public Management Minister Toranosuke Katayama defended the system, saying, "If there are places that remain opposed to the system, I would ask for more dialogue so that we can reach an understanding."
To instill trust, the government is vowing tough action against abusers of the system. Those who leak personal information can face up to two years in prison and a fine of $8,300, ministry spokesman Yoshiuki Baba said.
The protests come just months after a Defense Agency official admitted to having secretly compiled private information on people who had requested documents under the country's freedom of information act. News of the list sparked public outrage and raised concerns that government officials could easily collect and leak confidential information about anyone.

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